In Berlin’s ‘poor but sexy’ — their words, not ours— corner of the art world, it’s the creative process, as opposed to the profit statement, that is romanticized to the extreme. But even in this self-styled last bastion of bohemia, there’s business to be done, albeit a bit more discreetly. That’s the goal of Artforum Berlin and ABC, the city’s most significant fairs, which took place this past weekend at the Messe fairgrounds on the city’s West end.
Artforum, which is now in its 15th edition, took a traditional approach to sales, with 110 dealers laid out in booths on either side of a soaring Art Deco, stained-glass atrium. Highlights came courtesy of a diverse mix of galleries. Johann König, delivered a sculpture-centric booth, with a standout plexiglass piece from Johannes Wohnseifer, titled "Dreifache Verneinung" (which translates to both ‘3 times no’ and ‘3 times refusal’). Wohnseifer makes a subversive play on corporate branding strategies by spotlighting the consumer’s power of refusal, embedded within a seemingly monolithic and black-and-white capitalist reality.
Jakob Kolding Untitled (Alice), 2009 lambda print mounted on aluminum
Istanbul’s Rodeo Gallery, which has evolved into a hub for Mediterranean conceptual art, presented a single, Greek artist, Eftihis Patsourakis, whose panoramas of flea market-sourced seascapes reveal the transcendent potential in even the most banal artistic practice.
And Team Gallery, a well-known New York platform for emerging artists, presented the year’s best booth, with two Scandinavian, Berlin-based artists, Gardar Eide Einarsson and Jakob Kolding. Their monochromatic collages, paintings, posters and sculptures, which share a graphic, urban sensibility, packed a stark visual punch that was seamlessly integrated into the space, thanks to site-specific wall pieces by both artists. The gallery’s owner, José Freire conceded that Artforum isn’t very lucrative, but Berlin’s focus on more than making money plays an essential part in its attraction. “It’s not just about recouping your costs... it’s [also] about representing and promoting your artists in another location. Berlin is a place where you would want to promote your artists. It appeals to me... I have a fantasy about myself as being anti-commercial as well.”
Artforum and ABC might fall short of the powerhouse status of fairs like Art Basel and Frieze, but they also reflect an essential aspect of Berlin’s cultural orientation, in which creative integrity is valued more than making money. It’s a Western urban center that, despite a tragic past, has managed to resurrect the kind of Utopian dream surrendered decades ago by cities like New York and London. To a cynic’s ears it might sound a bit quaint, but even for the jaded, the reality is impressive to behold.
Gardar Eide Einarsson Crest, 2010 acrylic on canvas
Johannes Wohnseifer Dreifache Verneinung, 2007 plexiglass letters
Eftihis Patsourakis Horizon #3, 2010 found oil paintings on canvas
BitteBitteJaJa Cadavres Exquis Vivants, 2010
Photos: Johannes Wohnseifer, courtesy Johann Kö. All others Krista Figacz.